Do­mes­tic demons

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

“A PAR­A­SITE! She be­friended your Astro body and lured you into the Fur­ther.” Yeah, yeah, ex­or­cist lady, we know how pos­ses­sion movies work.

Di­rec­tor James Wan and screen­writer Leigh Whan­nell, the wun­derkinds be­hind Saw, are also up to speed.

If Jig­saw was a moral, plat­form-gamer-friendly ri­poste of Freddy Krueger, then In­sid­i­ous is Poltergeist in a fair­ground house of mir­rors; the Tobe Hooper film, you may re­call, was not short on car­ni­val in the first place.

In keep­ing with its han­dle, In­sid­i­ous is a sneaky, shift­ing thing. Ea­gle-eyed view­ers will, dur­ing the gar­ish open­ing cred­its, note Para­nor­mal Ac­tiv­ity’s Oren Peli’s in­volve­ment as a pro­ducer. Wan’s film opens as a prob­a­ble fran­chise step­sis­ter to the Is­raeli di­rec­tor’s break­through hit. Har­ried mar­ried cou­ple Josh and Re­nai (Pa­trick Wil­son and Rose Byrne) have just moved into a Creaky Old House with their two young sons and a baby when things start to go bump in the night. You know how it is: chairs move of their own ac­cord, books fly off shelves, Bar­bara Her­shey pops up as Josh’s dis­con­cert­ing mother.

Be­fore you can say “In­dian burial ground”, the cou­ple’s young son Dal­ton has fallen into an un­ex­plained coma and noisy ghosts are us­ing the bed­rooms as thor­ough­fares. The fam­ily are in agree­ment: it’s time to call in an agree­ably wacky gang of spir­i­tu­al­ists to kick some spec­tral ass.

Di­rec­tor Wan pro­vides a mas­ter­class in old-school, dark-house gram­mar. The cam­era snakes about with ma­li­cious in­tent. The sound­track plays out as a con­crete opera musique.

But at the mo­ment when the film must face down its demons, all bets are off. Whan­nell drily chan­nels Ghostbusters’ Bill Mur­ray as a vis­it­ing geek-boy para­nor­mal­ist; Lin Shaye does a muted Zelda Ru­bin­stein; the third act lets fly with full-blown grotes­querie.

Most film-mak­ers shy away from ex­pos­ing their mon­sters; Wan and Whan­nell bring them on in cho­rus lines. On the ceil­ing there’s a clawed de­mon; on the floor, there’s a corseted Tim Bur­ton hero­ine that may have been at­tacked by Sal­vador Dali with a blow­torch.

At heart, it’s a ghost train in the style of Wan’s un­der­rated Dead Si­lence. It keeps us amused be­cause it abides by its own batty rules about as­tral pro­jec­tion and be­cause Wil­son and Byrne keep up a del­i­cate do­mes­tic drama when the dead folks come a-call­ing.

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